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Collaboration with the U.S. Department of State on Net-Zero Energy Consulate Design

Architecture Research Collaborative


Collaboration with the U.S. Department of State on Net-Zero Energy Consulate Design



Event Date


Organizing Team:

Ajla Aksamija


Collaboration with the U.S. Department of State on Net-Zero Energy Consulate Design

In the spring semester of 2020, the Department of Architecture at the University of Massachusetts partnered with the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations through the Diplomacy Lab. The Diplomacy Lab enables collaboration between universities and the State Department, and exploration of real-world challenges. This collaboration was led by the Associate Professor Ajla Aksamija. Architecture students enrolled in the Graduate Design IV studio worked on the design of a net-zero energy U.S. Consulate Building, located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The building program and site were based on the actual location and building program, which included 270,000 GSF (25,000 GSM) of programmed spaces for the consulate building and auxiliary elements. The primary objective of this collaboration was to explore design methods for high-performance consulate buildings, as well as methods for meeting net-zero energy goals. 

The project initiated with precedent analysis, which allowed students to understand intricacies of architectural design for this specific building type, spatial organization, typical site design strategies, and ways to reduce energy consumption. Then, students conducted site analysis to understand the building location, climate, and environmental factors (including impacts of climate change), transportation and infrastructure, surrounding context, history, culture, typical construction techniques, etc. The next steps included conceptual design, programming and building code analysis, considering all programmatic elements, integration with the site, circulation, and passive sustainable design strategies. Students also explored energy efficiency measures and net-zero energy design strategies. By integrating building performance analysis procedures and energy modeling software programs into the design process, students investigated energy consumption of their designs, impacts of design decisions on energy reductions, and methods for reaching net-zero energy goals by integrating renewable energy systems. During the last part of the semester, students proceeded with the design development, which entailed detailed spatial organizations, structural design, integration with the site, building envelope treatment, and facade design. The final reviews were conducted online and attended by the representatives from the U.S. Department of State, as well as other guest reviewers. The end results of the studio provided a range of interesting design concepts, as well as methods for reaching net-zero energy goals in a cooling-dominated climate. This collaboration continued into the fall semester of 2020, when students worked on the development of technical documentation as part of the Integration Studio.

Other UMass Departments and faculty members who are interested in collaborating with the U.S. Department of State can contact Prof. Aksamija, who serves as the Diplomacy Lab's coordinator for UMass Amherst.